Deadline puts heat on Schaefer

February 15, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

The president of the Maryland Senate and the owner of the Washington Redskins turned up the heat on Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday as the deadline passed for him to disclose whether any National Football League team is interested in moving to Baltimore.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said if Schaefer does not offer proof today that an NFL team wants to play in Baltimore, he should abandon that dream and embrace the Redskins' proposed move to Laurel before that chance is lost as well.

Meanwhile, Jack Kent Cooke, the billionaire owner of the Redskins, issued a statement saying he was "terribly disappointed" with Schaefer. Cooke said the governor had promised that if he did not have a commitment from an NFL team by Feb. 14, he would give up his efforts to bring a team to Baltimore.

"That date has now come and gone," Cooke said.

Schaefer planned to brief legislative leaders today on the status of his efforts to lure an NFL team to play in a taxpayer-financed stadium that would be built adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The governor has been personally involved in negotiations aimed at bringing the Los Angeles Raiders, Los Angeles Rams or Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Baltimore.

Based on what Schaefer tells them, lawmakers will have to decide whether to leave in place the proposed financing for a new stadium in Baltimore, authorized in 1987.

"We'll tell them what we're doing and see what happens," the governor said yesterday.

least one lawmaker could not wait for today's meeting. Sen. Laurence Levitan, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, last night introduced legislation that would transfer any funds now set aside for a football stadium in Baltimore to be used for other capital projects.

Miller, a longtime critic of the governor and one of the most vocal supporters of a Redskins move to Maryland, said it was time for Schaefer and the General Assembly to decide the issue once and for all.

"If the governor is going to indicate that there's a real, live, bona fide interest in Baltimore, almost to the point where a contract is ready to be signed, then I'm certain that special consideration can be given," he said.

Absent such assurances, Miller said, "I would imagine the governor would recognize the futility of continuing to chase a pipe dream and recognize that the state of Maryland has already lost one NFL team" when the Colts left Baltimore 10 years ago.

"It would be insane to chase away Maryland's only current viable hope of obtaining another NFL team."

Miller said the state does not think twice when it spends millions on relatively small economic development projects, but now is running the risk of letting one man's multimillion-dollar investment slip from the state's grasp.

That, Miller said, "would be silly to the point of insanity."

But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, said most delegates were willing to listen to what Schaefer has to say and await a March 1 report on the cost of

building roads and other infrastructure around the Laurel stadium site before making up their minds.

"The general feeling is [that] we will ultimately be faced with some major decisions, but we have a ways to go yet before we make them," . Taylor said.

. Cooke wants to spend $160 million of his own money to build a 78,600-seat stadium next to Laurel Race Course. But he has stated publicly -- and has told Schaefer privately -- that he does not believe that the Baltimore-Washington market can sustain two NFL teams.

Schaefer apparently believes Cooke simply wants a monopoly, and predictably asserted yesterday that Maryland can sustain two teams.

"I have no question about that at all," Schaefer said. "We have facts to prove it. . . . I think we can build a stadium in Baltimore. They are two separate and really distinct areas. Baltimore really needs it. Laurel doesn't."

Legislators in both houses watching Schaefer, 72, and Cooke, 81, wage stadium warfare said they were worried that the state could end up empty-handed.

"This is very high stakes poker," said one. "We could end up with two football teams, a basketball team and a hockey team -- or in another year we could end up with nothing."

Senator Miller, based on personal conversations with Cooke, discounted the chances Maryland groups may have of buying the Tampa Bay team. And he warned the governor against dealing with Raiders owner Al Davis, whom Miller called "a wild card in anybody's book."

"The governor would be wise to be very leery of Al Davis," he said. "He's a street-smart person from New York who considers himself above the league or above any rules or regulations associated with the league. To deal with Al Davis means protracted litigation, assuming Davis is even interested."

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